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May 26, 2009

"That" Subject Again

Roy Meachum

Most readers know that I wrote a column for the Frederick News-Post for over 20 years. During that time the publisher and editor was George Delaplaine. Judge Edward Delaplaine was his uncle, an author and prolific reader of catholic tastes, but there was one subject that turned him off.


When the judge died, at 95 and in 1989, there was a sort of a wake in his home not far from Hood College. As his widow was widely known to people even outside the family, "Aunt Helen" kindly told me her husband asked her to read my column to him, except he evidently did not cotton to my pieces on the Middle East. When I wrote on the subject, he waved his wife (and the column) aside. I understood, as the kind lady knew I would.


Things are little better now. After four recent wars and two bloody occupations in the region, most Americans still don't want to hear about Muslim countries. They turn glassy eyed if the subject comes up in conversation. They don't want to know and, therefore, welcome clichés. "All Arabs" is how they choose to dismiss the region. They fundamentally dismiss the reality that Iraq alone possesses two kinds of Arabs and Kurds, the Afghans and Iranians are totally separate.


Within Islam there is a variety of Shiites who broke away from the Sunni mainstream initially in Iraq. Like the Christian Protestants, they continue to proliferate. Libya claims the Sennusi sect. Syria has the Alawites, who are close but not in lockstep with their Iranian co-religionists. There may not be a Shiite sect to match each hair on my beard, but damned near. Both Libya and Syria have very large Sunni majorities: their de facto rulers are Shiites.


When Sunni Saddam Hussein was the cock of the walk in Iraq, his people were overwhelmingly Shiite, as Americans have discovered from the news. Much of his trouble governing derived from the Kurds, also Muslim, and their drive for independence, which began before World War I. The Sufi sect turns away neither Sunni or Shiite, I was told; it is the mystical branch of Islam given to meditation, good works and practices that are not viewed as typical of Islam.


Far more than "rag heads" and "camel jockeys," early in their history Muhammad's followers rescued the works of Aristotle, Archimedes and other "pagans" that were being destroyed by the early church fathers.


It is grossly untrue that Muslims have been at war with Jews for hundreds of years. In fact, hundreds of thousands of victims of the anti-Semitic Spanish Inquisition found refuge within the Ottoman Empire, whose ruler was accepted as the caliph, the head of all Islam.


As a guest at a Muslim wedding in Frederick, I was the only Christian at a table; I asked my fellow guests: How their religion could turn out such lousy governments? They agreed but in conversation we could not reach agreement on why. At this moment, I can't come up with a single Islamic country that belies my 10-year-old question.


Of course, now I have an answer, which I will save for the next column on this subject – in the future.


Peace be with you! Salaam aleichem!


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